Nanotechnology, the design and manipulation of materials at the atomic scale, may well revolutionize how we manufacture products, produce energy, and treat diseases. Yet the same properties that make nanomaterials useful may also increase their risk to human health and the environment.
Existing regulations fail to address many of the novel issues presented by nanomaterials, yet governments are moving slowly to confront these gaps. Meanwhile, thousands of products containing nanomaterials are already on the market with little assurance of their safety.
EDF first became interested in nanotechnology in early 2003, both because of its potential for producing environmental benefits through promising applications in materials, renewable energy and other areas, and because of its potential environmental, safety and health risks. EDF created an internal "Team Nano" with expertise in science, law and business.
Hopeful about nanotechnology's potential benefits, but mindful of past examples of promising technologies bringing unwelcome harm, the team developed a three-part strategy to "get nanotech right the first time": increased risk research, improved government oversight and careful corporate stewardship.
In 2004, EDF articulated this strategy in position papers, journal articles and presentations. As EDF pressed the government for more research funding and clearer oversight policies, we also searched for corporate partners to help develop a "corporate standard of care" for nanotechnology.